vagina, bladder, uterus, rectum, anus, cervix

Why is vulvar and vagina care important?

Many women experience uncomfortable, vaginal infections (vaginitis) at one time or another. The area around the entrance to the vagina (vulva) can also become irritated. Steps can be taken to relieve and prevent vulvar discomfort and vaginal infections.

Not all vaginal infections are alike and home treatments can worsen some types. If you have any concerns about your vulvar or vaginal health, or notice unusual changes in vaginal discharge, contact your healthcare provider if the problem persists.

What is the vulva?

The vulva is the area of female sex organs that lies outside of the vagina. These organs include folds of sensitive tissue called the labia (labia means "lips"). The labia has two parts. The outermost folds are called the labia majora. A second set of folds, called the labia minora, is enclosed within the labia majora. The vulva also contains the mounded area made by the pubic bone (mons pubis), a small, round organ (clitoris), and the openings of the vagina and urinary canal (urethra).

What is the vagina?

The vagina is part of the female genitalia. It starts from the opening, called the introitus or inner part of the labia, and ends at the opening of the uterus called the cervix.

Why do vaginal infections happen?

Vaginal infections occur when bacteria, funguses or other organisms grow uncontrolled. Some of these organisms already live in the vagina and are kept at healthy levels by coexisting with other organisms. Infectious organisms can also be introduced into the vagina by improper hygiene or unsafe sex.

What is vulvar care?

The goal of vulvar care is to keep the vulva dry and free from irritants. In this way, you can prevent the vulva from becoming red, swollen and irritated. Because many infections are introduced into the vagina, these tips also provide a basis for good, vaginal care.

What are some tips for vulvar care?

  • Use warm water to wash the vulva. Dry thoroughly with a clean towel. (If the vulva is very irritated, you can try drying it with a blow dryer set on cool.)
  • The vagina cleanses itself naturally in the form of normal, vaginal discharge. Avoid using douches unless prescribed by your physician. These products can upset the natural balance of organisms.
  • Wear only white, 100 percent cotton underwear. Avoid wearing nylon, acetate, or other manmade fibers if you have delicate skin or are prone to vulvar irritation.
  • Avoid wearing thongs.
  • Rinse underclothes carefully after washing or double-rinse. Avoid using too much laundry detergent.
  • Wash new underclothes before wearing.
  • Use a mild soap (such as Woolite®) for washing underclothes. Avoid fabric softeners (including dryer sheets) and detergents with enzymes (amylase, lipase, protease and cellulose).
  • Use soft toilet tissue (white only).
  • Use tampons instead of sanitary napkins to control menstrual bleeding. (Do not use deodorant tampons.) Do not leave tampons in for a long period, due to toxic shock syndrome. Do not leave tampons in all night.
  • Take sitz baths daily, if prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Don't scratch.
  • Avoid wearing nylon pantyhose or panty girdles. They trap heat and moisture, providing an ideal breeding environment for organisms. When nylons or leggings are required, wear cotton or nylons with a cotton panty.
  • Avoid these feminine hygiene products, which can irritate the vulva: sanitary pads, feminine spray and deodorants, scented oils, bubble baths, bath oils, talc or powder.

What over-the-counter products can be used for vaginal lubrication?

Vaginal moisturizers can be used for dryness, if needed. These can be water- or silicon-based products:

  • Replens® (Warner Wellcome) - Using applicator, apply three times a week at bedtime to maintain normal vaginal moisture.
  • Gyne-Moistrin® (Schering-Plough)
  • Crisco vegetable shortening

For use during intercourse (vaginal lubricants):

  • Astroglide® (Astro-Lube, Inc.)
  • Lubrin® Vaginal Suppository (Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc.) - Developed for postmenopausal women
  • Condom-Mate® Vaginal Suppository (Upsher-Smith)— Developed for use with condoms; same as Lubrin®, but smaller.
  • Today® Personal Lubricant (Made by manufacturers of the Today® Sponge)
  • K-Y Liquid® (Johnson and Johnson)

Emollients (products like Petroleum jelly) should be used in patients with vulvar irritation sparingly. It is not recommended to insert emollients vaginally.

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